15 Feb 2016

EU Ministers continue to allow overfishing in 2016

Richard* did his bachelor's thesis with me. This post represents his ongoing work...

Fisheries in European waters are managed by the EU under the Common Fisheries Policy whose stated objectives include to ensure the sustainable management of fish resources - specifically achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield for all stocks by 2020 at the latest. The primary means through which the EU aims to achieve this is through fishing quotas called Total Allowable Catches (TACs) which specify the maximum tonnage of particular stocks member states may fish. Unfortunately, fisheries ministers from EU member states consistently set these TACs too high in the annual EU Council meeting – allowing overfishing. Between 2001 and 2015 TACs were set on average 20% above levels scientists recommend to ensure sustainability. The irony of this is that ministers hail higher quotas as a success under the pretext that fishing revenue and jobs will benefit even though the opposite is true in the long run.

Fish stocks are a natural resource that deliver the most benefits when allowed to reach a large size. If the stock populations are larger, they can be fished at a higher rate as their natural growth rate through reproduction is also higher. The highest rate of fishing that also maintains the size of the stock is called Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) which is what the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) - the main scientific body providing advice on TAC levels - use as their main criterion. Modelling research by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has shown that allowing stocks to recover and fishing stocks at MSY in the EU could generate an additional €1.6B in revenue and create 20,000 more jobs. It makes both economic and environmental sense to fish at MSY and the longer this is delayed, the more potential value is lost.

Analysis of the TACs set for 2016 [pdf] show that although the amount of TACs set above advice is much lower than it was 15 years ago, the slight increase from last year’s quotas is counter to the continuous progress required to achieve MSY by 2020. The main beneficiaries from this excess quota this year are Ireland and Spain who receive quota 26% and 24% above advice respectively. Ministers representing these countries appear to be successfully pushing for outcomes that may result in more catches this year, but fewer in years to come.

Bottom Line Fisheries ministers will need to be courageous in making the politically difficult decisions in the next TAC negotiations so that this valuable resource can be optimally and sustainably utilised.

* Richard Kleinjans [email] is a Research Assistant at the New Economics Foundation